Welfare frauds on long payback

By Peter de Graaf

Two Northlanders have been sentenced to home detention for welfare fraud totalling more than $150,000.

The offenders, a 33-year-old woman from Kerikeri and a 34-year-old man from rural Kaikohe, will have to return the money - but at a rate of $10 a week it would take almost 200 years for their debts to be fully repaid. The two cases are unrelated but both appeared for sentencing in the Kaikohe District Court last Friday.

According to the Ministry of Social Development, Joseph Abraham Kopa applied for and was granted a domestic purposes benefit and an accommodation supplement in November 2004. But he failed to say he was living with his partner and claimed he was single on six subsequent occasions.

When his benefit was stopped in April 2011 he had been overpaid to the tune of $98,219. He entered guilty pleas to one charge of obtaining by deception and seven of dishonestly using a document. Both charges carry a maximum penalty of seven years' jail.

Amy Jean Pearson was granted a domestic purposes benefit, accommodation supplement and temporary additional support in December 2007. At the time she was on her own but she failed to tell the Ministry that she was entered into a marriage-like relationship in September 2009.

Twelve times after that she said she had no partner so her benefits continued until May 2012, resulting in an overpayment of $52,503. She pleaded guilty to one charge of obtaining by deception and 12 of dishonestly using a document.

Judge Greg Davis said people who committed benefit fraud were stealing from taxpayers.

"The victims are the public at large, all those legitimate taxpayers who make sure a sustainable welfare system can be put in place. It brings the system into disrepute when those who are not entitled to benefits claim them."

In Pearson's case the court had been told she needed the money and had a sick child, but no evidence had been presented to back that up.

"It was a deliberate rort by you and your partner to increase your household wealth," Judge Davis said, sentencing her to 4 and a half months' home detention.

Kopa's offending was prolonged and sustained, lasting more than six years, but the father of four had co-operated with the Ministry and did not seek to minimise his offending.

Kopa was sentenced to nine months' home detention. The Ministry did not seek reparation, saying it would recover the overpayment directly. At $10 a week it will take Kopa 189 years to pay off his debt and Pearson 101 years.

- Northern Advocate

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